The White Stripes/Cat Power/Turin Brakes/Jeff London
The White Stripes: Elephant (V2)
Not the work of unalloyed brilliance some expected. Some songs pretty much suck--the chunky remedial metal of "Black Math"; "I Want to be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart," a rejected B-side from any previous Stripes album. What we have here, really, is a world-beating four- or five-song EP inside a reasonably solid album. When Jack White drops his faux-naïf persona for the grimy blues "Ball and Biscuit"; when Meg White croons jaw-dropping, narcotic soul romance in "In the Cold, Cold Night"; when Holly Golightly adds her Brit-twang to "Well It's True That We Love One Another"--then Elephant threatens to realize its potential. Jack White still makes one suspect he's a songwriting genius. He just doesn't always bother to prove it. (Zach Dundas)
Cat Power: You Are Free (Matador)
Implicit in just about every one of these 14 anguish-drenched songs is the message that you are anything but free. If you can escape lovelorn emotional slavery, at the very least Cat Power will hypnotize you and make you do her bidding. As on her previous albums, Chan Marshall stages a sustained act of mesmerism that can both make and ruin your day. She does find her way into some new sounds--sub-Sleater-Kinney rock on "Free," the Gothic strings of "Werewolf"--but essentially this is the piano-anchored beauty Cat Power has always been. It's like smashing 14 mirrors--all splinter, but each into a different pattern of devastation. And there's no way you're not getting cut. (ZD)
Turin Brakes: Ether Song (Astralwerks)
Rather than repeat the maudlin, acoustic introspection of their lauded debut, which placed them high in the ranks of the quietcore scene, the Turin Brakes transplant gently melodic songs into a sun-soaked body of vital, folk-tinged rock, evocative of a '70s West Coast sound. Air producer Tony Hoffer recorded Ether Song in L.A., adding an ephemeral, cinematic aspect to a collection of songs that subtly infiltrate the memory. In the course of two albums, Turin Brakes have provided soundtracks first for rain, now for shine. (Matt McNally)
Jeff London: Harm's Way (self-released)
I never know quite what to make of albums that come with instructions--I've wasted enough of my life listening to music good, bad and awful to know how to, y'know, do it. This local songwriter's latest--the most Portland album in some time, with its DIY release, lyrical melancholy and Stumptown Printers packaging--at least justifies its order to listen to it over headphones. London knows how to use his forlornly reedy voice and bare-bones guitar for maximum emotional havoc, and Type Foundry producer Adam Selzer builds his usual hyper-detailed atmosphere. Sometimes electric guitar growls somewhere in the deep background, but mostly this is deep-sad acoustic music, a full-immersion experience in a fine songwriter's blues. (ZD)
HISS & VINEGAR
WAR: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR, AND BY THE WAY, WHAT DOES A COW FEEL LIKE?
Many recording artists are hunting for an angle in Operation Iraqi Freedom (which could use a serious rebranding effort--how about OPERATION IRAQNOPHOBIA?). Pink-on-the-inside acts like Beastie Boys and REM are flogging quickie peacenik anthems on the Web, while country's usual gang of idiots churns out pro-war rah-rah.
In the midst of this opportunistic boondoggle, the death of Edwin Star has gone largely unremarked upon. Star, felled by a heart attack at the age of 61, co-wrote and sang the only anti-war song con cojones ("War/ Huh!/ What is it good for?/ Absolutely nuthin'"). He lived near Birmingham, England. Ginger-haired WW intern Matt McNally also hails from the Scepter'd Isle, and he offers the following Edwin Star memorial:
"Apparently Stevie Wonder was staying at Edwin's farmhouse, hanging out, and conversation got 'round to cows. Stevie mentioned that he had no idea what a cow must look like. So, long story short, my mate was driving down this country road in the middle of nowhere, and he looks out his window into a field and sees Edwin Star and Stevie Wonder, who is feeling his way around a cow. Not something you see everyday in Warwickshire." Clearly, we can all learn something from this touching story.
AND NOW BACK TO THE NEWS
Just because we've all been glued to Fox News waiting for Oliver North to confess that Donald Rumsfeld is "extravagantly hung" doesn't mean there isn't music news to report. In fact, in a rare positive piece of war-related news, current events indirectly caused a few people to walk out of a Pearl Jam show in Denver last week, after Eddie Vedder shot his fat mouth off about George Bush. Though odds are we agree with Eddie (who thought that could ever happen?), H&V wholeheartedly supports walking out of Pearl Jam concerts, whatever the reason... The Blackbird, the Northeast Sandy indie-rock club, has changed hands, passing from founder Pat Kenneally to a consortium of club employees...Local dub artist Alter Echo chips in on Dubometry, the new remix album by internationally known wax-slicer DJ Spooky...The Daisychain Festival, an annual female-centered local music happening, has been postponed. Organizer Lisa Lepine says in a news release that a combination of factors, from sponsorship issues to the political climate, inspired the scrub of Daisychain's planned Memorial Day kickoff. A new date remains TBA...New releases now or soon from locals Jeff London, Higher Ground and I Can Lick Any Son of a Bitch in the House...And not least of all, WW is now accepting applications to Musicfest Northwest 2003, the third installment of our fiendishly successful nonprofit music festival, which benefits tone-deaf children. Bands, solo artists, DJs and zither players can chuck their chapeaux into the proverbial ring at www.musicfestnw.com. More details forthcoming all spring and summer until you're bloody sick of the whole thing.